Calling for an end to threats and attacks against journalists in Venezuela

Friday, February 28, 2014
Her Excellency Ana Carolina Rodriguez, The Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Canada Embassy of Venezuela 32 Range Road Ottawa, ON K1N 8J4 Dear Ambassador, I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world. CJFE adds its voice to Espacio Público and IPYS-Venezuela to show our concern for the serious violations of human rights, and in particular, violations of freedom of expression which have been happening in Venezuela. According to the information we have received, during public protests that started 12 February 2014, there have been many threats and attacks against journalists who were reporting on the demonstrations. Some of these public protests are being repressed in violent ways, with many deaths, injuries, and reports of torture and arbitrary detention. In most of these cases, the attackers are police officers, members of the armed forces or civil armed groups supporting the government. Also, most of the national media have failed to publish information about protests and violence due to governmental pressure and the fear of retaliation. Over the last few years, Venezuela’s National Commission on Telecommunications (CONATEL) has been developing a policy of punishing media that do not tow a pro-government editorial line. Recently, on 11 February of this year, the General Director of CONATEL, William Castillo, criticized the media coverage of the violence by some outlets, classifying the content as hate speech and stating that those media outlets would be sanctioned. This current environment makes it difficult for the media to freely transmit information about what is happening. The independent press has been seriously affected by an orchestrated lack of foreign currency they need to acquire paper and other essential supplies for printing. Due to the monetary exchange control that exists in Venezuela, several special authorizations are required to legally buy foreign currency. The government has set up many obstacles that impede the independent press from obtaining foreign currency for buying necessary supplies. This has caused the temporary closure of at least nine papers and led to problems with circulation, page reduction, edition reductions and print run reduction of at least 22 publications. The national government has ordered, in authoritarian manner and with no judicial process, that the television channel NTN24 be taken off the air and not shown on cable television. NTN24, a Colombian news station, was one of the few media outlets that were independently transmitting news about public protests. Moreover, the government ordered the blocking of the NTN24 website from Venezuela. The government has also arbitrarily blocked the access to images on Twitter and created other restrictions to internet media. Additionally, the government threatened CNN en Español with censorship by prohibiting its broadcast on Venezuelan cable television services. These kinds of international media and social networks are an essential source of information for Venezuelans, especially in light of the censorship of the country’s national media. Every decision reducing the space for expression and increasing repression for dissenting voices contributes to the negative climate for freedom of expression in Venezuela. These problems are made worse in a context of high political tension and orchestrated repression from government employees. Consequently, we demand that the Venezuelan government show respect for human rights in Venezuela, particularly the right of freedom of expression, and take these actions:
  1. Stop the threats and attacks against journalists and media.
  2. Allow national and international media to freely spread information, including information that criticizes the government, without fear of repression from any governmental organization.
  3. Facilitate the procedures for the acquisition of foreign currency by the independent print media, so that they can buy paper and other essential supplies needed for the publications.
We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply. Yours sincerely, Arnold Amber, CJFE President

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